Playing through Hotline Miami last year was quite the experience. It’s one that I’ve described as being “unique and interesting.” However, when I was asked if I would recommend it to others, I was caught thinking whether or not I thought the game was any good at all outside of it being just “unique and interesting.”
Having replayed the game for a second time has helped me find the answer to that question.
The story of Hotline Miami is one for debate as there are multiple interpretations to the various events of the game. The whole story is told from multiple perspectives with little regards to chronological order. Given that there is also a possibility of many of the events being drug induced nightmares that never really happened; it’s easy to say that the story is ambiguous at best.
Even with this disjointed narrative, the story kept me interested from beginning to end by continuously hinting at the bigger picture. Who were these people that were calling me? Why do I mindlessly carry out their orders? What am I getting out of this? All these questions flashed through my mind during the missions and I found myself grasping at every little bread crumb the game meticulously laid before me.
In the end, I was left with more questions than I had answers but by then, I understood the vision the developers of Hotline Miami had in creating the title and came away feeling more or less satisfied. It’s unclear that others would have similar feelings about the narrative- or perhaps more accurately put- “message” of the game but I believe it’s well worth finding out for oneself.
Contrary to the story, the game play of Hotline Miami is rather simple. The left analog stick controls the movement and the right controls the orientation of the character. There’s a button for picking up items/weapons, finishing downed foes, attacking with said weapons and one to throw away the weapon in hand. It didn’t take very long to familiarize myself with the controls as I began taking out dozens of enemies with brutal finesse. It’s a quick paced experience where one single hit of almost any weapon means the end for both player and the enemy.
There is no penalty for death outside of having to retry from the beginning of the last checkpoint, which in most cases is the start of a floor. Given a floor can take as short as a minute to finish, having to retry after a death isn’t that much of a hindrance. However, in the later stages, when the difficulty hits a fever pitch, it’s heartbreaking to die on the last target after executing a dozen perfect kills just to get to him.
Even though Hotline Miami is an incredibly fast paced game, it’s also equal parts a puzzle game. It’s true that killing is the solution to all the problems the player will face through the course of the title. However, the wet work takes a backseat to planning as in the latter stages going into a room full of shotgun wielding thugs will just end in failure. So instead, the players are forced to look at the weapon load outs of the enemies, their positions, paths and whatever resources are available to them. With that information, it’s possible to plot out a path with a decent chance of success and it’s at that point the wet work begins.
There are also masks that unlock by finishing stages, or even found lying around in the missions themselves, and they serve to add certain modifiers to the nameless protagonist’s abilities. Some masks come with traits that dramatically affect the combat by making punches instant kills or bring a more subtle effect like being able to see secrets in the stages easier. My personal favorite mask was one that gave me the ability to instantly kill enemies by bashing them with a door. It was a common strategy for me to fire some shots on the other side of a room near a door to lure enemies into a doorway so I could take them out one at a time without letting them even take a shot at me. Failing over and over again on a stage only to go back to the very beginning to change the mask that I was wearing and succeed only a few tries later really showed me the great role strategy played in this seemingly action only title.
Also, I would be doing a great injustice if I didn’t mention the excellent soundtrack which fits the game perfectly. Wait! No, I don’t think you understand just how perfect the soundtrack for this title is. So, just to make a point, I’m going to list every synonym for the word “perfect” that I can currently think of. Impeccable. Seamless. Faultless. Ideal. Immaculate.
I really need to work on my vocabulary but regardless; I think I’ve made my point.
Having played Hotline Miami to completion on the PC, there weren’t too many things setting apart the Vita/PS3 version from the original. Given that I played the PC version of Hotline Miami with a 360 pad, I felt right at home with the controls presented in the title. On the Vita, moving the screen using the touchpad felt relatively natural and the fact that I was able to mark enemies for auto-target took out some of the guesswork when it came to aiming from afar.
The game also looked very vibrant and colorful on the Vita thanks to the gorgeous OLED screen while on the PS3’s big screen felt a bit washed out and the resolution overly blown up. Luckily, there is no reason to pick and choose between the versions as it is a cross-buy title. A purchase of one version gets you the other one for free. Also, if anyone has distaste for playing on a handheld at home, there’s also the option to quickly and painlessly sync the saves from both versions of the game so it’s possible to always be playing on the latest save data regardless of the platform.
Most importantly, the inclusion of the leader boards not only increases the longevity of the title (it’s about 3 hours long) but also shows new and interesting ways a mission could be handled. Just by looking at the kind of scores others were able to achieve and seeing what mask they were wearing when they did so gives inspiration to those aiming for the top spot. Lastly, there is a new mask to acquire but its effect is more or less a simple filter to make the game look different and nothing more.
Hotline Miami is truly a unique experience packaged in a bloody mess of human skin and entrails. It’s a title that grips the player with its sharp, visceral game play and asks uncomfortable questions which there aren’t clear answers to.
Anyone who believes that they have the stomach for such an experience should most definitely pick up the phone and call Hotline Miami.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.